In almost any classic fairytale, behind the sugary-sweet characters lies a deeper, darker theme to the story. From its cover to its content, Princess Chelsea’s debut album, Lil’ Golden Book, appears to be just the same as a classic fairytale, starting with the image of a cherubic princess and her fluffy cat adorning the cover of what looks like a book out of the “Little Golden Book” series.
Within a few seconds of listening, however, the feeling of being in an enchanted forest disappears into something charmingly creepy — Snow White meets The Addams Family. The album illustrates stories of growing into adolescence in New Zealand.
The echoes of Chelsea Nikkel’s voice against the slow plucking of a harp and an ’80s style beat on a keyboard melt together to form “Machines of Loving Grace.” The song is reminiscent of Enya, combining classic string instruments with modern-day melodies. A hint of xylophone and the high-pitched, slurred lyrics add just enough to make the song sound something like a children’s song, but the use of electric guitar and a sound similar to radio transmission signals add a more mature touch to an otherwise innocent track.
Hailing from Auckland, New Zealand, Chelsea Nikkel of Princess Chelsea was originally a part-time member of the band The Brunettes, playing the saxophone and keyboard. Nikkel then went on to debut her solo album Lil’ Golden Book with the producing help of Jonathan Bree, frontman of The Brunettes. Bree makes a guest appearance on Princess Chelsea’s track “Cigarette Duet.”
“Cigarette Duet” has a somewhat foreboding tone due to the use of organs and the strong contrast between the deep, careless tone of guest vocalist Bree and the saccharine tone of Chelsea Nikkel. The song portrays a dialogue between a couple whose relationship has become tense due to their opposing views on smoking: “It’s just a cigarette that I got from Jamie-Lee/ She’s gonna get a smack and I’m gonna give you three.”
Nikkel’s talent is this ability to take innocent melodies and string them together with thought-provoking lyrics. Although the lyrics are simplistic, the pure nature of the melody against the serious subject of smoking and its effects on relationships help the message of “Cigarette Duet” ring loud and clear.
“Overseas,” another quirky and imaginative track, tells the story of adolescents desperately seeking a wilder lifestyle outside of New Zealand: “We skimp we save we go overseas/ We leave those behind us who give us what we need/ In two years we return with a sigh of relief/ But we say it was better.”
An ominous melody on piano is woven with the occasional spark of a xylophone to evoke the feeling of being in a dark, unknown and dangerous place. The chord progression also creates a feeling of moving up and down along the bar staff, making the song feel similar to moving along the waves in the ocean. Nikkel certainly knows how to use imagery to her best ability.
Although Princess Chelsea’s album does incorporate a creative twist by juxtaposing good with evil, no song in particular stands out. And with the whispery quality of Chelsea Nikkel’s voice and the constant use of piano and xylophone, the album can feel monotonous as times.
All this would seem to put Princess Chelsea in as much distress as the damsel in many of its tracks, but Lil’ Golden Book is thankfully saved by the wit in her lyrics and baroque-pop influences. These elements darken the album enough so it can never be confused with a children’s lullaby. In this fairytale, the princess was much better off when she took a turn for the dark side.
2.5 out of 5 stars